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“Toxic tweets from the past are bad, but the frenzied reaction is worse”

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Anna Brech
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As public personalities come under fire for old and offensive tweets, Stylist contributor Anna Brech argues that the response is more noxious than the crime.

I abhor the kind of insults that have been unearthed on the Twitter feeds of Stormzy, Jack Maynard and Zoella recently. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would agree that terms such as “faggot” and “fat chavs” are acceptable language. I am not an apologist for them.

What frustrates me more than their ignorance, however, is the predictable response from The Angry People of the Internet. Like baying wolves, they have pounced on the saga with the full force of their righteous rage. They’re gleeful in their anger, only too ready to overlook any form of context or intention.

This has happened more times than I care to remember in the past few years. We love nothing more, it seems, than an extravagant blow-up on social media. We’re primed to work ourselves into a frenzy of sanctimony. And what do we get in return for our pent-up rage, that sweet release of fury spilling out like adrenaline on Instagram or Twitter? Anything from a self-flagellating apology to the loss of reputation and careers.

“Zoella’s tweets were horrible but they were made a long time ago”

Very often, these scenarios begin with something unpalatable, bigoted even. We should have zero tolerance for such prejudice; it needs to be confronted and dealt with in the correct way. But does that really mean hysterical masses unleashing on social media? Inevitably, this snowballs into a vicious pack mentality that is wholly unedifying, and occupies a separate category of wrongness.

In the heat of the moment, any sense of reasoning goes right out the window. Zoella’s tweets were undeniably wrong, but they were sent a long time ago. Hands up who hasn’t said something they regretted in their younger years? 

People should be held to account for what they say and do, but no one deserves the unbridled savagery that is often the consequence of social media shaming. It’s out of control and the people at the heart of it can’t escape; their reputations are blitzed on the altar of what people say on Facebook or Twitter. 

Often, the apologies that follow are so grovelling, I can’t bear it. Was it really necessarily for a respected space scientist to break down in tears for wearing a shirt with pictures of breasts on? Or, consider this baffled apology from the female owner of a small Czech brewery accused of selling sexist beer: “We never intended to take part in sexism, feminism or the like,” she says. “We are simply a brand that wants to offer beer in an elegant and beautiful bottle, something that has not been done before, for those women who want it.” 

It’s almost like we enjoy such indignity. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

“We don’t seem to care about motive anymore”

Of course, the media is complicit in these situations. We journalists often fan the flames of outrage. We let so-called “social media storms” burn a little brighter, provoking yet more outrage. I am as responsible for it as you or the next person is: it’s a collective form of behaviour that has somehow become acceptable.

Online anger can be a good thing. The #MeToo campaign that saw women share stories of sexual abuse and harassment is one example where it has been used as a powerful weapon. In these dark days of misogyny, Harvey Weinstein and others of his ilk are exactly the kind of serial perpetrators that we should be taking aim at.

But everything should be judged in its context and I think, more often that not, we get far too angry about someone’s old tweet or misjudged remark. I wonder whether the anger is really about the situation in question, or whether we’re simply frustrated with life in general, and it represents an easy outlet.

What does it say about us that trashing someone’s reputation on social media appears to be a national sport? Why are we forever spoiling for a fight? Whatever happened to empathy? It’s time to reassess. 

Images: Pexel Photos, Rex Features

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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